Few captains have shown as little imagination as Sachin Tendulkar did on the final day of the third Test against South Africa at Johannesburg. Every commentator in sight was reluctant to criticise him but the fact remains that he was in a position to force a possible win and only managed a draw.
One could have exonerated him for going on the defensive if South Africa had only lost a wicket or two by the time play resumed after the rain break. But at that point South Africa were playing for their lives at 76 for five, there were 43 overs left and India were right on top. At the end of it all, India had helped Cullinan and Klusener ensure a draw. The rain had the least to do with it.
Why did Tendulkar stick to just three bowlers right through? Are they the only ones capable of taking wickets? Was not his own example enough -- he had been dismissed more often than not in this series by a non-regular bowler, Hansie Cronje. Ganesh got two overs and Ganguly likewise. This was a time when a captain had to try something different. Sadly, Tendulkar, despite his youth, was more unwilling to experiment than a man of 80. Even his own past did not come back to him -- it was to him, a non-regular bowler, that Azharuddin had thrown the ball to bowl the last over in the final of a one-day tournament. He delivered that time.
At times it looked ridiculous. Play had resumed, South Africa were battling with their backs to the wall and there were two slips and three men on the boundary. For what? There were sufficient runs to play with and it would have been preferable to win by five runs than to draw with South Africa adrift by 128.
No member of the team apart from Azharuddin has experienced what it is to win a Test away and the captain did not seem over-eager to experience it either. The previous day too, he missed a cue by batting on after Dravid had been dismissed. But that could have been excused if the last day had seen a thinking cricketer at work. Sadly, this was not the case. And he is no rookie; he has been around for a long time, he was not trying to save the series.
Whether this will sink in or not is doubtful. The commentators at the ground did not raise a voice in protest and Sunil Gavaskar has been more busy pointing to the mistakes of umpire Peter Willey and the delay in starting play after the rain -- as though 45 minutes more of this kind of captaincy would have made much of a difference. Gavaskar's slip is, indeed, showing. A man can learn from his mistakes but only when he knows of them.